30 September 2004

S2M-1079 Emergency Workers (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Trish Godman): The next item of business is a debate on motion S2M-1079, in the name of Andy Kerr, on the general principles of the Emergency Workers (Scotland) Bill.
… … …

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): Bruce McFee and I are very much looking forward to serving on the Justice 1 Committee during stage 2 of the bill. I have been allowed a bit over a year of time off from the committee for good behaviour; Bruce McFee, being the novice that he is, is a first offender. Please be gentle with him during stage 2.

From my reading of the bill—I have, of course, not had the opportunity of studying it to the same depth as other Justice 1 Committee members—the question that goes to the heart of the matter is this: why do we wish to protect emergency workers? The question why is key to understanding whether we should do something, and what it is that we should do. The answer in this case is straightforward: it is because emergency workers protect those whom they assist. The existence of emergency workers, and the work that they do, serves a broader public purpose, which is of broader benefit.

The bill seeks to protect a relatively small number of people for the benefit of a very large number of people—the public as a whole. That goes to the nub of the matter, in that we are seeking to deliver a benefit to a large number of people. We are seeking to help the general population—all of us—when we are in extremis. The aim is to save life and to mitigate the effects of emergencies.

The partnership agreement says:

"We will protect emergency workers from assault and obstruction."

I contend that achieving that, and serving the purpose that we all share in this respect, does not require us to define who emergency workers are, but rather to define what an emergency situation is and what an individual, whatever their qualification, rank or employment—indeed, it could be a volunteer—is doing. If the bill were to be amended at stage 2 so as to delete subsections (1), (2) and (3) of section 1, which deal with the definition of "emergency worker" and so as to open with what is currently subsection (5), which defines emergency circumstances—that is the nub of the bill, as nothing matters unless emergency circumstances exist—we could move on to identifying whether a person is responding to an emergency, but without having to specify that person.

Margaret Mitchell: Does the member appreciate that that is the nub of the problem?

Just as it is difficult to define, by second-guessing any situation, who could potentially be an emergency worker, it is even more difficult to define and second-guess what circumstances could arise to constitute an emergency. That is why we must consider the individual circumstances of each case and use the common law, with all the increased powers of the Lord Advocate under the aggravated—

Stewart Stevenson: I think that we have got it. Curiously enough, I do not necessarily disagree with Margaret Mitchell's analysis, but I disagree with her conclusion.

There is scope for improving the law in this regard. After all, we are talking about relatively low-end offences. However, before talking about the law—I do not have much time—there are practical things that we should consider doing. For example, how much would it contribute to the safe operation of accident and emergency departments if we excluded non-patients where drink had been taken? Should we breathalyse people as they come into the department on a Friday or Saturday night? Funnily enough, that might deliver a huge benefit.

The minister responded to a question about the Loch Lomond Rescue Boat—a voluntary organisation, of which there are many. I am concerned that if we keep focusing on defining the people, we will exclude many of those whom we would wish to include.

Tommy Sheridan led us into slightly murky waters by talking about public service workers. I argue that that would include us—at least that is the way in which I seek to discharge my duties—so there would be difficulties with that.

The present definitions create problems. Let us envisage a situation in which somebody comes into an accident and emergency department with a double-barrelled shotgun and a doctor and his secretary are at reception, standing back to back. The secretary is there from another department to talk about the Christmas party with some of the people in the department. The double-barrelled shotgun injures both the doctor and the secretary, but one of them comes under the bill's remit and the other does not. If, on the other hand, they were standing face to face discussing an issue relating to the work of the department, the bill would apply to both. That is because at present the bill defines the people rather than the actions to which it applies.

There has been discussion about solemn procedure versus summary procedure.

Tommy Sheridan: Will the member take an intervention?

Stewart Stevenson: I am in my last minute. I am summing up.

The Deputy Presiding Officer: You can take an intervention if you wish.

Stewart Stevenson: In that case, I will.

Tommy Sheridan: It will be short. Surely the example that Stewart Stevenson gave is not that helpful, because in the circumstances that he described, the person would be charged with attempted murder. We are talking about extra protection, so I am not sure that the example was illuminating.

Stewart Stevenson: Let us suppose, instead, that the person in the example throws paint over the doctor and secretary. The general point is illustrated in broad terms—the bill makes distinctions between people that are not related to their actions in emergency situations, which I think is unhelpful.

I say to Annabel Goldie that in considering the bill we are not, as she appeared to suggest, required to agree with it as it is presently framed.

Miss Goldie: That is the difficulty. The question is whether the bill is in a form in which it can be made good. Our submission is that it cannot be made good; it is fundamentally flawed.

Stewart Stevenson: It will be for the convener of the Justice 1 Committee at stage 2 and the Presiding Officer at stage 3 to determine whether amendments will enable us to maintain and sustain the general principles of the bill. The long title of the bill allows us to see what they are likely to conclude. It is:

"An Act of the Scottish Parliament to make it an offence to assault or impede persons who are providing emergency services; and for connected purposes."

That does not require us to define those people as medically qualified, nurses or doctors. All sorts of issues of definition might cause us real difficulties. One of the curious issues relates to my personal life. Paragraph 165 of the Justice 1 Committee's stage 1 report suggests that only police constables have powers of arrest. That of course is not true. Nearly 40 years ago, I spent an enjoyable summer with a warrant card in my pocket when I was a water bailiff under the salmon fisheries acts. I do not imagine that we would want to respond to that fact by extending the definitions to cover my summer job as a water bailiff. By the way, I admit that purely on the basis that it will be excluded from the Official Report, in case people get to know about it.

We are, I hope, all seeking to solve a problem of which we have a common understanding. I suspect that that is the case. The bill—imperfect as it is—is our best opportunity to do so. I hope that all members will find it possible to accept the general principles so that we can move forward to an improved act derived from the bill at stage 2.


23 September 2004

S2M-1733 Sporting Scotland

The Presiding Officer (Mr George Reid): Good morning. The first item of business is a debate on motion S2M-1733, in the name of Frank McAveety, under the title of "A Sporting Scotland is a Successful Scotland", and three amendments to the motion.

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Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I support the definition of sport in the sport 21 strategy, which was set out by the Council of Europe in 2001. Thinking more tightly promotes mental well-being—let us all try to do that.

I declare an interest. Members of my immediate family have received grants from sportscotland. I assure the minister that we have contributed to target 7 in the sport 21 strategy by delivering one world championship so far. I hope that my relatives will continue to be successful on the international stage.

Professionalism in sport has not been mentioned. My view is that such professionalism is unhelpful. In Scotland our heroes used to be the Eric Liddells of this world, but now they are the Eric Cantonas. When I was an asthmatic young lad I was not fit and could engage in sport only to a limited extent, but I used to play rugby. I could play in the front row of the scrum because the rules—when I was a lad—were quite simple. The ball would go oot the back of the scrum, get fumbled by somebody at the back, and a loose maul would form. By the time I got out of the set scrum and joined the back of the loose maul—I could walk to it—the whistle would have been blown and we would have a set scrum. My point is that rugby used to be a game for players of all abilities and fitness levels. The rot set in when the rules about kicking into touch were changed to make a better game for the spectators. As a result, rugby can be played only by fit people and if I was an asthmatic youngster today, I would not be able to play. The changes to the rules were driven by the needs of spectators, to the detriment of the people who engage in the sport. Professionalism and a reliance on spectators do not offer a useful way forward.

I am surprised that there has been no mention of a Scottish sporting tradition. Highland games have been held since the 13th century. Those local, competitive sporting events are accessible to all. My young neighbours Amie and Lucie knock on my door every year after the Cornhill Highland games to show me the medals that they have won. We should support such positive engagement. For example, it would cost the Executive a little but almost nothing to buy the medals for local Highland games, but the indication from the centre that the games' contribution to Scottish sporting life is valued would motivate organisers to keep going. Even playing the bagpipes meets the definition of sport that the Executive uses. Of course, playing the bagpipes improves people's breathing capacity.

I am approaching my bus-pass years—I will reach them before the next election—but age is no barrier to participation in sport. In 1987, I saw the Australian over-40s long-distance running champion on Australian television. He was over 90 and he had won the competition for 41 consecutive years. A key message is that someone who starts fit can stay fit.

The Tories suggested that tobacco somehow makes a positive contribution to sport—for heaven's sake, we know why Jamie McGrigor and Brian Monteith would not take interventions. We must nail that lie. The tobacco industry is no longer as engaged in sport as it used to be, which is excellent news that sends the right message to people in communities throughout Scotland.

Members should consider some of the things that we could all do. For example, we could club together to buy equipment to help us to become reasonably fit—there is a room in which we could put such equipment. I do not suggest that we rely on the public purse for the money; we could provide the equipment ourselves and set an example. More of us should walk from Waverley station; it is 10 minutes for me and my wife tells me that it is 12 minutes. If high heels are a barrier, I ask the minister to dig deep and buy them some shoes just for the journey. They will last for a long time because they will only be worn for 20 or 30 minutes a day.

Let Scotland's slogan be "Rise up from your couch. You have nothing to lose but your blubber." The facilities are on our doorstep; it is Scotland's countryside and it is free.


22 September 2004

S2M-1727 Holyrood Inquiry Report

The Presiding Officer (Mr George Reid): Our next item of business is a debate on motion S2M-1727, in the name of Robert Brown, on the Holyrood inquiry report, and three amendments to the motion.
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Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): If the past five years have told us anything about what needs to be changed in Scottish public life, it is about the way in which we make our decisions and implement them. It is all too easy for Frances Curran to blame decisions made in London. Yes, those decisions were made under the control and direction of London, but they were made in Scotland and we should be big enough and honest enough to reflect on that fact as we move on.

I will quote Tony Blair, as Susan Deacon did, with approval. He said:

"Nothing is more important in raising the standard of public services than the quality of ... leadership ... So they need to be ... subject to full accountability and delivering high standards".

He continued:

"Effective pursuit of excellence does mean a tough line on failure".

However, that speech was not all that recent. It was made on 25 January 2002 in Newcastle. We have to stop talking; we have to start achieving.

Accountability is one of the key matters that we should focus on. In my professional career, I managed a number of projects. For one of the first big ones, I went to the board of the Bank of Scotland to get £22 million for a project. It was not as big as the Holyrood project—it was a 20th of the size. There was a telling exchange at the end of the board's examination of my project proposal. Bruce Patullo, who was then the guy who signed the bank-notes, asked me a simple question. He said: "Stewart, can you make this work?" I had to give him a one-word answer—"Yes." That meant that it did not matter what happened to the project, what difficulties were encountered, which people who did not work for me and who were outwith my responsibility had to be persuaded, bullied, cajoled to make that project work, the responsibility was mine. I was the one who lay awake and sweated at night with worry when we hit project difficulties. All projects hit difficulties, even small ones.

One of the compelling points that arises from the Fraser report is that there was no clear sense of accountability such as that which I had placed on me on that occasion at the bank and on many other occasions and which many other people have experienced in the private sector.

I say to Wendy Alexander that she should not imagine that bringing private sector people into the civil service will magically solve the problem. The private sector has as many problems with projects as the public sector and I suggest that it has even more—it is just that we dinnae hear about them because there is not the same requirement for openness and accountability.

The Holyrood project was established before any of us were elected. It would be almost charitable to say that the project was spawned in secrecy with a degree of amateurism. It continued in concealment and it was completed in organisational and financial disarray. If we learn anything from the experience, it should be that what starts as a shambles ends as a shambles.

Let us consider some of the evidence from the Fraser inquiry, as Susan Deacon invited us to do. The basis on which the project advanced was given by Mrs Doig in paragraph 43 of the transcript from 4 December 2003; she said that it was "Treasury guidance". So that is where the project started. I am perfectly prepared to concede that that might have been best practice at the time, but we have to move on because the explanation was clearly inadequate. In paragraph 254 of the transcript, Mr Campbell asked:

"what was driving the project, was it time, was it budget, or was it quality?"

That is interesting coming from a Queen's counsel because a project manager knows that three aspects are at the core of a project—time, cost and what one delivers. They are immutably linked at one point in time. If we change anything in one of those parameters, we affect another. In paragraph 264 of the transcript, Mrs Doig made it clear that although

"information is inadequate to produce a valid cost plan all the indications are that the budget of £50m will be exceeded by a significant amount".

Of course, the budget was £50 million for a long time, but the projected costs were entirely different.

The warning signs were writ very large for anyone with any real experience of projects. For example, in paragraph 333 of the transcript, Lord Fraser mentions that when "two months" had gone in the project there was "four weeks' delay". In paragraph 363, Mr Campbell points out that there was a delay of eight weeks after 22 weeks. Bluntly, the project started late and it was inevitable that it was going to end late. As Fred P Brooks, a professor of engineering in the United States, says, "'Take no small slips". He poses the question, "How do projects get late?", the answer to which is "One day at a time". The reality is that we never can make that time up.

I direct members to a book by the chief executive of Intel Corporation, a company that has gone through many transitions in its competitive and technological world. The title of his book—"Only the Paranoid Survive"—is a perfect lesson for us. This project was characterised by optimism when pessimism was required. Paranoia is what we need on these kinds of projects. We need to think the worst and prepare for the best.


15 September 2004

S2M-1672 Relocation of Public Sector Jobs

The Presiding Officer (Mr George Reid): Our next item of business is a debate on motion S2M-1672, in the name of Des McNulty, on behalf of the Finance Committee, on the relocation of public sector jobs. ...
… … ...

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I congratulate all the Finance Committee members on a comprehensive, readable and—I hope—understandable report. It reflects well on the Parliament's committee processes.

I will talk a little about the factors that the Executive is using to determine where jobs might be relocated to. There are four. Socioeconomic issues that contribute 50 per cent; business efficiency and improvement contribute 20 per cent; sustainable transport links contribute 15 per cent—I am not absolutely clear that I know what they are, but perhaps we will hear later; and suitable accommodation contributes 15 per cent. I focus on those factors because they open up a bit of a can of worms. I welcome the fact that the Executive will be more open about the factors that are used in future relocations—that is a useful step forward.

I will talk a little about my area and Aberdeenshire generally. Aberdeenshire Council expects population decline in my area in the years to come. The unemployment rate in my constituency is about three fifths of the Scottish average, so one might think that we were doing much better than the Scottish average. Unfortunately, when many people lose their jobs, they leave the area or work away from home. Members will know of fishermen who are working off the west coast of Africa. My constituents have lots of get up and go, but that affects the numbers.

The rate of self-employment is another important consideration when examining the numbers, because in my constituency it is more than twice the Scottish average. When people drop out of that way of earning a living, they are not reflected in the figures. Average earnings in my constituency are just slightly under the Scottish average, so it looks as if we are doing reasonably well, but the median figure is substantially below the Scottish average. In other words, the figure as an average is distorted by the fact that a relatively large number of people have very large earnings. Therefore, there is genuine difficulty with many of the factors that are used to identify a socioeconomically deprived area.

Of course, in The Press & Journal today, a Labour MP is complaining about the transfer of 100 jobs from Aberdeen to Greenock. I say good luck to Greenock; that is fine. Over the past five years, there have been transfers of 95 jobs into Aberdeen with the Food Standards Agency Scotland and the Common Services Agency, so in many ways we are back to where we started. People will come to the north-east and will relocate to parts of Scotland in general. For example, there are vast numbers of people with Geordie accents in Peterhead because of recruitments that took place 15 or 20 years ago. Those people now do not want to leave the area—they are embedded in it—and that is great.

Fergus Ewing made some useful comments about putting letters and e-mails that are part of decision making into the public domain. I point out that the Executive published a code of conduct for procurement in public agencies that makes it very clear that contracts are expected to be in the public domain. If that is the case, we should apply similar standards to relocation. I hope that we will hear that that will be done.

We must be aware that the day of the central office—of concentrations of labour in administrative functions—will end at some point in the future. I do not know when that will be, but we already have the technology to enable, for example, a remote-working office to be located in Barra, which I visited a few years ago. It is quite small, but four people in an office there perform work for people who are well distant. I also know of a gentleman who works for BT's development lab at Martlesham in Ipswich and who is based on the west coast of Lewis; he is doing some tremendous stuff down a fat communications point. I have been involved in joint projects with people in Australia and India that have relied on teleconferencing.

Teleconferencing is going to change a lot. I have seen an experimental system that is so realistic that, when one sits across the desk, one forgets very quickly that one is not in the same room as the other person. I had the experience of someone turning away from me because they were sneezing. They were actually 50 miles away, but the system was so realistic that they did not realise that they were not sitting in the same room as me. I have also seen three-dimensional television work in an experimental way.

Teleconferencing will move away from gimmicky ideas and, in perhaps 20 or 30 years, its realism will change the face of how we work. I hope that people will therefore be able to choose where they stay, because not everyone—I say this as a country loon—believes that cities are the epitome of civilisation. Indeed, I take an entirely contrary view on that.

Fergus Ewing talked about cost and there are two important aspects to that. Compensation for loss and recompense for inconvenience are proper, but bribery disnae work in the long term, and we have to reconsider it.


08 September 2004

S2M-1578 International Suicide Prevention Week

The Presiding Officer (Mr George Reid): We move straight to the next item of business, which is a continuation of the members' business debate on motion S2M-1578, in the name of Duncan McNeil, on international suicide prevention week.
Motion debated,

That the Parliament acknowledges the importance of International Suicide Prevention Week from 5 to 11 September 2004 for raising awareness of this cause of death; recognises that more people die as a result of suicide than from traffic accidents; commends the work being done by Choose life, Scotland's strategy aimed at reducing suicides by 20% over the next 10 years; welcomes the introduction to Scotland of Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training, helping develop more effective approaches to both identifying and assisting those most at risk of suicide, and looks forward to this suicide-reduction work continuing at a national and local level.


Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): It is a slightly unusual privilege to read in the Official Report that I rose to start my speech at 17:21 yesterday and am still continuing it nearly 24 hours later. I rather hope that that record will not be beaten, even though it was dictated by the rather unusual circumstances.

I congratulate Duncan McNeil on bringing this important subject to Parliament. I share his disappointment that the debate has been fractured. However, I am sure that the fact that it spreads over a long timescale will cause it to be read with particular interest. I will not speak at quite the length that I originally intended to because we have two members' business debates to conduct tonight.

One of the important things about suicide is that it comes in a variety of forms, not all of which politicians or anyone else can reasonably expect to have influence over. One form that is troubling the modern world is what I would term political suicide. It is not a new phenomenon, as anyone who has stood on the heights of Masada will know. Several thousand years ago, the community there committed mass suicide, apparently by choice, when confronted by the horrors of being overrun by a hostile mob. One has sympathy with that community. In 1968, Jan Palach immolated himself in Wenceslas Square as an expression of his personal despair at the quashing of the Prague spring. Of course, the Czech Republic is now a member of the European Union.

More sinister and worrying today is murder by suicide, whereby many young people are persuaded to commit suicide in order to murder others. I make this important little point before I move to the meat of the matter: we want Scotland to support real and locally appropriate democracy as the only way forward throughout the world. That is an important part of the prevention of political suicide, which happens in environments in which there is a democratic vacuum that provides no opportunity for the proper expression of political views.

Individuals are at the heart of this debate and international suicide prevention week. Of course, a number of factors can drive people to commit suicide. People who are physically ill can be driven in their extremity to take their own lives—perhaps when they are suffering from a terminal illness. That is not good for anyone—perhaps, for the person concerned. I hope that there will be many more opportunities throughout Scotland for people who are terminally ill to receive the appropriate pain management that means that they are less likely to take that extreme measure, which affects their families and friends.

Probably at the core of the matter is whether we offer the appropriate support to people who are mentally disturbed and whether we detect and catch such people early enough to ensure that they receive the support that means that they do not feel driven to commit suicide as a way out of their despair. Of course, there can be subtle interactions between mental and physical illness: a school classmate of mine had the grave misfortune to have a serious intestinal problem that required him to have a colostomy bag, the physical effects of which affected his mental state. He committed suicide.

Finally, there are people who commit suicide out of the blue—we do not know why. In my own family we experienced that seven years ago and to this day we do not know why that family member committed suicide.

We cannot help everyone who might commit suicide, but I hope that international suicide prevention week will help to raise the profile of the problem and reduce the numbers of people who do so.


Statement & Debate: Scottish Executive's Programme

The Presiding Officer (Mr George Reid): The next item of business is continuation of the debate on the First Minister's statement on the Scottish Executive's programme.
… … …


Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I want to speak about two aspects of the Executive's programme: justice, which has been discussed this morning, and health. I look forward perhaps to hearing further detail on health issues this afternoon.

First, on justice, we have been discussing the number of prisoners and having a rather unproductive debate about whether we are reducing the number of prisoners by increasing the number of spaces that we are building for them. There is relatively broad consensus that there is not much point in sending people to prison unless they come out of that experience changed by it. There are three Rs in the justice system. The first of them, which the public thinks about a great deal, is restriction of liberty. That is the punishment part of the system. The very act of a person being locked up, having reduced communication with their friends and family and having little opportunity to participate in the economy—they cannae go tae their job in the morning—is the punishment.

The second R, which has been discussed to some extent—and about which we heard nothing in the Executive's programme—is restitution, or restorative justice. There is a great deal of opportunity for members throughout the Parliament to come forward with ideas on that subject. It is a subject that is not yet much developed, and I would like the Executive—and indeed my SNP colleagues—to continue to develop it.

Cathy Jamieson: I am glad that that point has been raised as restorative justice is one of the issues that, because of the lack of time, I had difficulty developing in my speech. I can give the member the assurance that the Executive is absolutely committed to ensuring that we have sentencing programmes in which offenders have to make some reparation in the communities against which they have offended.

Stewart Stevenson: I thank the minister. I am delighted with that, and I am sure that, as sensible proposals come forward, the minister will have a fair wind for them from the SNP. I am equally sure that we shall make our own proposals.

The most important of the three Rs is rehabilitation. Scotland is spending an increasing amount of money on programmes in the prison service—I very much welcome that. However, I have considerable concerns about what I have seen happening in the private sector in prisons. I am not just referring to what is happening in Scotland. I visited a private prison in Wales and found a lamentable failure to engage in a meaningful way in rehabilitating prisoners and ensuring that, when they left prison, they were less likely to reoffend. The figure of 60 per cent reoffending has been mentioned.

I take a considerable interest in the programmes and work of Peterhead prison, in my constituency. I very much welcomed the minister's spending a day with us in the north-east, observing the work of the prison. I hope that she was not too alarmed by the number of prisoners who greeted me by my first name; I can assure her that it is simply because I am their constituency MSP and not for any other, more sinister reason. We have not yet found a way of providing adequate support to what is going on at Peterhead. I recognise that the minister is focused on delivering two new prisons in the central belt for other purposes, but I hope that we will get an early indication that we can get the necessary investment to support, sustain and further develop what happens at Peterhead.

The minister will know, from her meeting with Liberal-independent Aberdeenshire Council, at which I joined her, that there is considerable concern about the proposals for a single correctional agency. The SNP initially took a neutral approach to the proposals, but as we have talked to local authorities in Aberdeenshire and elsewhere, it has become increasingly apparent that local authorities feel that they have a valuable contribution to make through the criminal justice social work system, which they provide and administer. We are in real danger of moving in a centralising way that runs against good practice and effective delivery of the rehabilitation efforts that must take place after prisoners are no longer within prison walls. More generally on that front, there are worrying signs within the Executive. Local authorities have been given the power to promote well-being, but we have seen little change in the Executive's relationship with and empowering of councils.

One of the major issues that will occupy us as we engage with the topic of health is the automation of record keeping in the health service. As we introduce changes in the pattern of out-of-hours care and call centres, more and more of patients' preliminary contact with the health service is with people who have no access to their medical records. That will cause health problems as well as introducing significant inefficiency in the system. In England, substantial amounts of money are being spent to do something about that—I look to England from time to time to learn from what happens there. We will return to that issue.

The First Minister said yesterday that he wanted us to be the best small country in the world. I have more modest ambitions: I want us to be equal to other small countries. I have no grand vision that Scotland is uniquely better than everywhere else, but I think that Scotland is as good as everywhere else. I welcome Mary Scanlon's conversion to the cause of independence—I hope that she moves from advocating independence for charities to advocating independence for Scotland.


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